(Preached at Alger First UMC on 8/9/2015)
Scripture: Romans 10:13-15
I’d like to tell you a story. There was a young girl, around 8 or 9, who wanted to learn how to cook. So she goes to her mother and says “Mom, I want to learn how to cook.” And her mom says “Well ok, how about you watch me cook dinner?” So the daughter grabs her stool and scoots it over right next to her mom and starts watching what mom’s doing. They’re having ham that night, so the mom is getting this ham ready to cook, and she gets the pan out, chops off the end of the ham and puts it in the oven. Her daughter asks “Why did you cut off the end?” And the mom thinks and says “Well…I guess it’s because that’s the way your grandma did it when I was growing up. Why don’t you call grandma and ask her?” So the daughter gets the phone and calls grandma and asks “Grandma, why do you cut the end off of a ham before you cook it?” And her grandma says “Because it wouldn’t fit in my pan.”
We need to ask “why?” about what we do here in church. Look at your bulletin. Why do we do all of those things? Why do we have announcements first? Why do we sing those hymns, and why do we use this hymnal, why did we pass those offering plates around earlier, why did we sing the doxology, why am I standing up here talking to you? We need to ask those kinds of questions.
So we’re starting a series today called “Stuff My Church Does.” And the whole idea behind this series is to ask “why do we do that?” And we can’t just say “We’ve always done it that way.” Because if we don’t know why the church does any of this stuff, then all of this loses the meaning behind it. And if there’s no meaning behind what we do here every week, then why in the world are we wasting our time doing something pointless?
Thankfully, there is meaning behind what we do, and we hope to discover that. If you’re here for the first time, this series can be kind of be an introduction to what we do here and why we do it. If you’ve been coming here for a while, this’ll be a good reminder for why you’ve been coming here every week.
So this week, the first week of Stuff My Church Does, we’re asking “Why do we preach? Why do we have a sermon every week?” For those of you who don’t know, my dad’s a pastor, he’s been a pastor all my life, and I can remember when I was growing up in church and listening to dad’s sermons. And sometimes as a kid I would wonder why Dad stood up there talking for 20 minutes. I mean, maybe it was because Mom did most of the talking at home so Dad had to get it out somehow. But I never really got an answer and I just kind of started accepting it-that’s just what we did. When we go to church, we sing songs, we put money in those shiny bowls, someone stands up and reads stuff out of that big book up there, Dad talks for 20 minutes, we sing another song and then we leave. That’s just what happens at church. I never really tried to figure out why.
Now I’m sure you’ve fallen into the same habit. How many of you have thought to question why you pay me to prepare and give a sermon every week? This is a question not a lot of people are asking-why does the pastor preach? Now part of this probably has to do with the fact that this is what pastors are just known for-there’s the joke about pastors only working one day a week, when they preach on Sunday, right? This is what the church is known for even by people outside of the church. If you’re new here today, even if you don’t know anyone here, you’ve never been here, you’ve never been to any church, I bet you already knew that at some point in the service, someone would get up and talk for 20 minutes.
But seriously though-about 1/3 to ½ of the service every week is spent on the sermon. I work 25 hours a week as your pastor, and out of those 25 hours a week, 10-15 hours is spent preparing to preach. Why do we do this every single week? It can’t be for us to just sit and be bored for 20 minutes, can it? Who would want to do that? Who would want to invite people to do that?
I think we can find the answer to this question in the Bible. Could you turn with me to Romans 10:13-15? I’d like all of you to. If you don’t have your Bible with you, we have the red pew Bibles in front of you and the page number for this should be in the bulletin. Everyone turn there, because I really want to dive into this, alright?
“All who call on the Lord’s name will be saved. So how can they call on someone they don’t have faith in? And how can they have faith in someone they haven’t heard of? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the good news.” (Romans 10:13-15, CEB)
Now keep your Bibles open to that, I want to dive in here, because I think this will really help us answer that question-why do we preach? Because Paul here is making kind of a mini-argument for why we preach. And we can really see this if we read this passage in reverse. So follow along with me. Starting in verse 15, Paul is saying that preachers preach so that people can hear about Jesus. That sounds pretty simple right? But why do we need to hear about Jesus? So that we may have faith in Jesus. And we need to have faith in Jesus so that we can call on Jesus. And we need to call on Jesus because calling on Jesus, searching for Jesus, crying out for Jesus is what brings us salvation. Through calling on Jesus, we are saved. So why do we preach? So that we may be saved.
But we have to keep questioning. Why do we need to be saved? What do we need to be saved from? We need to be saved from our own captivity. We all need to be set free from something. I’ll explain.
At the end of verse 15 in our passage, Paul says “How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the good news.” Now honestly, that doesn’t make much sense to me, when I first read this passage I didn’t really know why this was there. But I found out that Paul is actually quoting a passage from the prophet Isaiah, who was around 700 or 800 years before Paul. Isaiah was called to be a prophet, which basically just meant he was the mouthpiece of God, when the Israelites were going through a really dark time. The nation of Babylon had come and defeated the nation of Israel and took thousands of Jews captive back to Babylon. This period is known as the Babylonian Captivity or Exile. If you’ve been here the last couple of months, you’ve heard this period mentioned a few times because most of the writers of the Bible were Jewish and this was a huge, important, and formational period for the Jewish people that affects their faith even today. So this period is even in the background for a lot of the New Testament.
Now Isaiah was sent to preach to these Jews who have seen their home town and their home country decimated by this enemy nation and have been brought away to this foreign land. And this has happened because Israel had stopped following the one true God, they disobeyed God and did everything God told them not to do, even though God was the one who had given them freedom and prosperity and purpose and had chosen them to be God’s People. But they turned away from this God, did whatever they wanted, and this disobedience had consequences. So they were attacked, defeated, and deported.
In the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament, Isaiah spends the first part of the book explaining everything that Israel has done wrong and how they’ve brought this exile onto themselves. Lots of doom and gloom, all that nastiness. But the second part of Isaiah changes tone. The first part had this tone of condemnation and judgment, but the second part talks about consolation and renewal and restoration. The time of punishment is over, the time for restoration is here.
It’s this second part of Isaiah that has the verse that Paul quoted. It’s Isaiah 52:7, and it says:
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of a messenger who proclaims peace, who brings good news, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God rules!” (Isaiah 52:7, CEB)
So the Israelites have heard that the time for punishment and judgment has ended, now they will be restored and renewed and good things will start happening. So they’re looking forward to a time when a messenger would come running in with the news that they could return to their homeland, that their punishment is finally over, that they have been set free. How beautiful are the feet of that messenger who brings that news.
I imagine it would have been similar to the feeling of the slaves in the South during the Civil War when they heard about the Emancipation Proclamation. Imagine how that would have felt to hear that you were finally free? Especially after the thirteenth Amendment was passed, completely outlawing slavery in the US. Imagine how beautiful the feet of that messenger would be if you were a slave in the south hearing that you were finally set free.
Now, I say all of this to drive home the point that this is why I stand up here and talk to you for 20 minutes every week. I preach so that we may all be free and that our lives would be transformed. That’s the real reason that we preach every week in church. Because don’t we all need to be freed from something?
Are you really free? Are you really free? Or is there something holding you captive? I’m not talking literal captivity, I’m talking about within you. Take a look inside yourself. Are you really free in here, to make whatever decisions you want, to do whatever you want? Or is there something holding onto you?
Maybe you’re dealing with a very real kind of captivity like addiction. Maybe you have an addiction to a physical substance-alcohol, drugs, those kinds of things-or maybe you’re addicted to something more abstract-your work, money, maybe you’re addicted to other people’s approval of you. And this addiction controls when you wake up, when you go to sleep, when you eat, where you work, where you go after work, how hard you work. You’re not free.
Or maybe you deal with an intensely personal problem like low self-esteem or self-doubt or depression. And maybe this controls you in ways that surprise you-you want a certain job but you don’t believe you can do it. You want to speak up but you don’t believe in yourself in enough to find the words. You want to get to know someone, but you don’t believe they could ever like you. You’re not free.
Or maybe you deal with some pain in your past. Maybe you’ve been seriously hurt-either physically or emotionally by their words or both. Maybe it was a parent, a friend, a spouse, a child. And maybe this old would is holding you captive, keeping you from enjoying life, making you avoid certain situations and people. You’re not free.
See, I think all need to be freed from something. We all need freedom and transformation in our lives. And according to Paul in our passage, this is the message that preachers are entrusted with. This is the reason we preach here. Preachers preach so that people can hear about Jesus. People need to hear about Jesus so that we may have faith in Jesus. People need to have faith in Jesus so that they can call on Jesus. And people need to call on Jesus so that we may be set free by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the message that we proclaim every week. This is what we all need to hear and what we all need to be reminded of, week in and week out. You can be free in Jesus Christ.
What would happen if we all saw the vital importance of hearing the Word of God every week? What would happen if we all devoted ourselves to hearing this word preached in church and wrestling with the message ourselves, instead of just forgetting about it when we left church? What would it look like if we invited others here to hear the freedom of God proclaimed in the Word of God? What would it look like if we all brought this Word out into our community and saw it as our job to proclaim this freedom that everyone needs to those around us? Just think of the transformation that would happen. I think it would look pretty amazing.
So why do we preach? So that we may be free and so that our lives may be transformed. You can be free in Jesus Christ. Everyone can be free in Jesus Christ. That’s why we preach.